Friday, October 31, 2008

Two Men, Two Insurance Policies?


A couple of posts back, I wrote The Road to Hell is Paved...... a dispatch by Michael Yon. In his post he traveled into the wilds of Afghanistan to interview men who claimed to be Taliban, The Road to Hell .

The reason I re-posted this story, is because over the past two weeks a major discussion has broken out on the blogospherse regarding, Nir Rosen's Rolling Stones piece about the Taliban. The battle began when Small Wars Journals editor Dave Dilegge wrote, A Personal Problem With Nir Rosen's Dance With The Devil (Updated) » it was followed by this post by Bing West, An American Journalist » . The interesting thing about this, is how much discussion has been raised by other bloggerss and to an even greater degree, by the comments section under each post. Two blogs which I hold in high esteem have weighted in on both sides of this discussion. abu mugqawama with, If only we could all be as tough and patriotic as Bing West with 74 comments and counting. And Information Dissemination who writes, The Bias, Balance, and Independence of Journalism, followed by numerous comments.

The reason I decided to offer some comment, is that Michael Yon did something very similar to Nir Rosen. He, like Mr. Rosen traveled to a remote area of Afghanistan and interviewed several men, some who claimed to have been Taliban. Yon's interview was centered on discovering details about the ambush in August of French soldiers near Sarobi.

Shortly after returning from this trip he came into possession of a thumb drive and upon downloading the photos they revealed an inside look at the Taliban. Both Yon and Rosen's reports should be viewed for their worth as a method to understand your enemy.

Comparisons to World War II or other state on state wars are a bit weak, since censorship of the press was strictly enforced to prevent information being inadvertently shared with the enemy. In this latest generation of warfare, propaganda, hiding under the guise of journalism has become a tool for stateless actors to pick away at the natural scepticism of war weary democratic societies. The value of whose report was the most balanced must be left to the eyes of the reader. Both Yon and Rosen took chances to bring their reports to the attention of the American public, how they managed to secure their safe return seems to be the major sticking point for many.

For me, a major difference between Yon's and Rosen's "Excellent adventures in Talibanland," seems to be the type of insurance policy that was taken out to insure their safe return.

In Yon's case, he traveled with two freelance westerners who he introduces this way.

In Kabul, I met Tim Lynch and Shem Klimiuk (a retired USMC and ex-Aussie paratrooper, respectively), and we drove in an unarmored truck east to Jalalabad. The canyon-filled drive would be dangerous even if there was no war, but there is a war – a rapidly growing one — and Tim pointed out burnt spots on the road where ambushes had occurred. I was unarmed, and counting on the military experience of my two guides as well as their combined seven years experience in Afghanistan. In the weeks that I would spend with Tim and Shem, we drove more than a thousand miles up and down Afghan roads without the slightest drama, except that Tim scares me with his driving. If you are rich and want the adventure of a lifetime, contact Tim Lynch. You might die. But if you live, you’ll come back with a new perspective on Afghanistan.

Yon continues to describe the meeting:

And so the meeting began. The man on the left said his name is Mohamood Farooq, and the man on the right identified himself as Abdul Samad. Both of them were from Sper Kundy. Mohamood said he was “Taliban,” while Abdul claimed he was not. In fact, Abdul said he hated the Taliban. Mohamood Farooq is also the name of a Taliban commander whose family had recently been killed in an airstrike that was targeting Farooq but missed. Apparently this was a different Farooq because I asked about his family and he said his family was fine.

After the meeting, and on their way back, Yon reports a curious development.

The seven of us loaded back into the truck and started back toward Sarobi. When we came to a good view of Sarobi, the men from Sper Kundy wanted to take a picture, which I found curious. Why would a man who has lived here all his life suddenly want a photo of Sarobi? Maybe he had a new camera. Had it belonged to a French soldier?

A major part of the continuing controversy over Rosen's adventure, involves how Rosen's contacts insured his safety the old fashion way. " If anything happens to our friend, we kill you and all your family." This has set off a firestorm that has engulfed the discussion and blotted out any insight that may be gleaned from Rosen's work. Rosen for his part has responded to his many critics and in doing so has sparked an even more important debate about journalism and ethics.

Personally, I concur with the views expressed with fellow blogger Galrahn of Information Dissemination when he writes.

Does our elected political leadership have the wisdom to make moral distinctions on media content in wartime regarding domestic media coverage of the war without influencing our system of free political speech through the media? I don't know, but I do know that regardless of the best intentions, it isn't as easy as it seems.

The thing that struck me while reading these two accounts, was that Michael Yon filed his report without trying to enhance his own importance, by name dropping the method of insurance precautions taken to ensure his story getting out. In fact several times during the trip Yon mentioned that their greatest fear was being mistaken by a predator drone for the Taliban.

Courage and morality are in the eyes of the beholder. Michael Yon traveled into harms way and relied on two stalwart guides and his own sense of survival. Nir Rosen, relied on methods that conformed to the Afghan tribal ways of a Hobbesian "state of nature, to be his insurance policy. It is up to your the reader to make your own call on which side of morality you come down on.

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